Geneticist ‘stoked’ to be finalist

Beef and Lamb New Zealand Significant Contribution to the New Zealand Sheep Industry Award...
Beef and Lamb New Zealand Significant Contribution to the New Zealand Sheep Industry Award finalist Julia Aspinall works in her office in Invercargill in the lead-up to the Sheep Industry Awards next month. Photo: Nicole Sharp.
Julia Aspinall is an animal-breeding specialist.

Passionate about her work and the sheep industry, this year she was nominated for the Beef and Lamb New Zealand Significant Contribution to the New Zealand Sheep Industry Award for the first time.

She was announced as a finalist earlier this month, alongside retired Havelock North  Romney breeder Tony Parker and Parnassus Perendale breeder Tim Anderson.

"I was pretty stoked [to find out I was a finalist,]" she said.

"I’m passionate about doing what I’m doing."

Originally from Mt Aspiring Station in Wanaka, Ms Aspinall has always had a love of the sheep industry.

After finishing high school she went on to Otago University, where she completed a bachelor of home science before travelling overseas and completing her master’s in animal science.She started her business, Genetic Gains Ltd, in 1995 and took over a local Sheep Improvement Limited (Sil) bureau six years later.

Genetic Gains Ltd offers genetics services using Sil to identify farmers’ most productive sheep, working with artificial breeding and artificial insemination  to utilise top genetics.

"I have some very supportive breeders and staff."

She enjoyed translating science terminology into farmer speak, as she had an understanding of both sides of the fence, she said.

In her time in the industry she had seen an increase in focus on sheep genetics and more gains were being made these days, she said.

One of the biggest influences had been the introduction of and advancements in Sil. Beef and Lamb New Zealand Genetics had worked with breeders to develop the Sil database  into something that was really incredible, Ms Aspinall said.

"I think New Zealand sheep breeders are really lucky to have access to Sil."

Everyone who was involved with the programme had a strong focus on accuracy, she said.

"The reports that come out are only as good as what goes in."

Sil first came to fruition in 2000 and Ms Aspinall became involved with the programme in 2001.

"There are advantages for all sheep farmers. Even though it’s only the stud breeders on Sil, the advantages for the commercial breeders are huge."

There are groups of breeders who work together to share top genetics and Beef and Lamb Genetics New Zealand runs a central progeny system to develop further links between breeders.

Ms Aspinall said she had noticed a few changes in her time  in the sheep industry, including a shift away from more traditional breeds such as Coopworth and Romney towards composites such as Suftex and TEFRom.

Looking to the future, she was planning on staying open-minded and moving with the times as the industry developed, she said.

She also aimed to increase the artificial insemination (AI) side of her business, as she believed there were huge opportunities for farmers in AI, she said.

"It’s something you don’t see the benefits with straight away, but you see them a year or two on."

She believed DNA testing would be the next major advancement in the industry,  as a way of testing for traits that were hard to measure, she said.

"People have been doing worm resistance [testing for a while], but if you could do it through a DNA test it would be far simpler."

The winner of the award will be announced at the Sheep Industry Awards gala evening in Invercargill on July 5.

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